What have I been doing this past year, you ask? Well, I spent a good portion of it missing my other half, going to church, working, doing school work, chasing after kids, cleaning house, trying to find time for a shower that lasted longer than 5 minutes. I spent a good portion of the last year surviving my husband's 3rd, perhaps last, and longest deployment.
February 7th, 2013 we drove down to the pier and braved the cold in order to bid my husband, and the boys' daddy, farewell. It was a difficult morning--one we'd been anticipating for months. The boys didn't quite understand what was in store and as we watched the ship slowly float away, I'm sure our thoughts were much different. The boys, I'm sure, were thinking Daddy would be gone for a few weeks and back again. They were amazed at the size of the boat, in awe at all the sailors in their dress blues manning the rails. It was the 3rd deployment Xander had been through but the first I felt he would truly feel the severity of the separation. It was Archer's first deployment experience all together.
The thoughts in my head were much less like awe and excitement and much more like dread and worry. I could already feel the loneliness creeping up inside me--not just for me, but for my boys. I was already envisioning each holiday and birthday that would be missed and the looks on their faces when they realized that this time Daddy was going to be gone for a very long time.
But, I knew we'd get through it. What is another 6 months apart when you have forever together to spend? I knew with a lot of prayer, a brave face, a little determination, and a lot of love and support from my family and friends, we would make it through this deployment with flying colors just as we had all the rest.
We were less than a week into the deployment when I went to strap my son, Xander, into his car seat and noticed he had silent tears running down his cheeks. It was late--we were leaving church after a Wednesday night service--and I assumed he was tired and ready to get home. "We'll be home soon, Sweetie.", I said. His reply took me off guard. "I'm not sad about not being home..or being sleepy. I'm not even sad about wanting to play my games or watch a show or play cars. I'm sad because of my Daddy. And I just want him home and he's not. And I just don't know when he will be again."
Shew. Immediate tears. Gosh, I usually make it through month 1 or 2 without having a good, hearty deployment cry. But not this time. I realized then that this deployment was going to be by far the hardest one I'd ever been through. I had experienced the antsy toddler who asked for Daddy at bedtime and carried around Daddy's picture to kiss when he got sad. I expected that. And I knew I'd have that with Archer this time around. I hadn't yet experienced the preschooler who was a little too smart for his own good..who realized that Daddy was going to be gone a long time and who was able to express that in such a breathtaking way.
Now I had both ages and both stages. It was going to be a challenge. But again, we could do it.
We knew what day he'd be home--August 4th. I used special days to help the boys countdown to Daddy's return. We'd get through February and celebrate Valentine's Day. We already made up cards for Daddy to take with him and open that day. We'd get through March and look forward to the cold, dry weather leaving and the warmer winds of spring blowing in. April would bring a trip home to Ohio for us and we'd be able to spend time with our family. We'd send Daddy another package for his birthday. In May, Xander's school year would end and summer break would begin. In June, we would celebrate Xander's 4th birthday and send Daddy a Father's Day package. July we'd plan some fun trips to the beach and enjoy the long days of summer. And once July had come to a close, we'd welcome my love home.
But, you know what they say about the best laid plans...
In May we got a phone call from Robert early one morning. It was much earlier than he normally called and I almost missed the call because I was asleep. I was excited to hear his voice. He didn't get to call often--that was probably the second phone call we'd had. My excitement was quickly deluded when he said he had some bad news. Their deployment had been extended for six weeks; they'd be home September 16th.
Sigh. Okay..no big deal, right? I was lucky enough to have my mom living here with us and helping entertain the boys and keep the loneliness at bay. It was just another month to tack on to the countdown. He'd miss Archer's birthday, September 8th, but we'd just celebrate it when he got home a week later.
I explained to the boys that we'd be waiting another month on Daddy and although they were a little disappointed, it didn't seem like it changed much.
Shortly thereafter, my husband reenlisted in the Navy for another 5 years. He got a new set of orders. We found out we'd be relocating to Pensacola, FL and we were set to move on October 1st.
Whew, that means we'll only have 2 weeks between when he returns home and when we leave this area, I thought. I didn't want to spend that time hectically packing or organizing, so it became my mission to do so before the hubby returned home. I busied myself with organizing the garage, the shed, the walk-in closet. I cleaned out all the clothes closets, sorted through and boxed up most of the electronics, the books, the DVDs. As September approached I felt good about what I'd gotten done around the house and we began to officially countdown until Homecoming day.
The last week of August, I headed in to our housing office to turn in our notice and sign the paperwork stating we'd be moving October 1st. Things were coming together. I needed my husband to review some paperwork so I emailed him about it. I waited for a response and didn't hear anything for a day..3 days..8 days..I began to worry. One of the great things about having a husband that works on the electronics on the boat is that he has access to the internet often and he normally doesn't go more than a day without emailing me. Something was up. I began to really pay attention to the news. The last time something like this happened, I flipped on CNN and saw my husband's ship launching tomahawk missiles at Libya. I had a feeling that something like that had to be happening...and I was right. I saw all the things that were going on in Syria and I knew my husband was involved. Over the next few days, I spent my time bouncing back and forth from actively stalking news channels and websites to actively avoiding them. Still no word from my husband. His homecoming date was quickly approaching and yet, I had no clue where he was or what he was doing.
I finally heard from him. He had fallen and cut his knee. He needed stitches and was able to quickly email me from Medical. He said he was fine, not to be worried, but that the schedule had changed and "when we'll be home is up in the air right now."
Sigh. Really? It became apparent that they were awaiting orders from President Obama on what to do about the Syria conflict. Would we attack? Would we retreat? Those were the questions. Amidst the debate of whether or not to move in on Syria in some way, we also had Russia to worry about. Putin announced he was moving ships to the Med as well. Everything was escalating so quickly.
I had my own questions circling my mind--Was my husband truly okay? Were they in danger? Would he be home before our move date or would we be moving to Florida without him?
I later found out that during the time that my husband wasn't able to speak to me, they were being tracked and followed by Russian ships. Those are the times when you realize how thankful you are for information you don't know.
September 16th came and went. No word on when my husband would be here. The boys and I stopped counting down--what could we count down to? Toward the end of September I was able to chat with my husband. He told me that they had a new homecoming date. "I'll be there the day after your birthday", he said. Awesome! My birthday wasn't too far away..just a couple weeks. I began to plan once again.
The next day, my husband called me around noon. He told me that the Captain had called a meeting on the ship--they wouldn't be home on October 3rd as planned. In fact, they wouldn't be home in October at all. "Sometime in November" was the only time frame they could give us.
I cried. For the first time in receiving extension information, I cried. How many times was this going to happen? How many times would I tell my sons that "Daddy would be home soon" and realize just days later that was a lie? What would happen with my husband's orders to Pensacola? We had already turned in our notice to move on October 1st..would I have to leave Virginia for Florida not even knowing when my husband would be back on US soil?
Thankfully, I heard from my husband about a week later that his Chain of Command was taking care of everything with our housing office and had succeeded in getting his orders to Pensacola extended. We could wait here in Va Beach for his return and we'd move to Pensacola sometime in December.
In the back of my mind I thought "Yeah, that's the plan until we find out you're not coming home until January." I was beginning to become a bit of a pessimist. But, as a mom of two little ones who are confused and missing their Daddy, you can't be pessimistic. We decided we'd make Daddy a Halloween package and send that off. It'd been a couple months since we sent a package, since we didn't know how long he'd be gone. We had a blast decorating it and my 4 year old seemed to think that when his Daddy opened it he'd be so scared that he'd jump right off the ship. Lol.
Toward the middle of October we received another Homecoming date. They'd be pulling in on November 8th. Would this really be it?
As we began to get nearer and nearer to the date, things started to come together. Our Homecoming brief with the FRG was scheduled and perhaps the best news of all--the ship had actually left the Med. They were actually on their way home! Our household reeled with excitement. Homecoming shirts for the boys were made. I got my hair cut, bought my Homecoming dress. Notified our Homecoming photographer of the 4th change in his return date.
This was it. This was the one.
Up until 3-4 days before he returned, I still wondered--would I get yet another phone call? I could not bear to hear that word "extension" again.
And, to God's glory, I did not! On November 8th, after over nine months of separation, my husband returned home. After 3/4 of a year, 4 extensions, 4 birthdays, Father's Day, Mother's Day, several new milestones met..274 days..my family was whole again.
What a whirlwind. I can't say it was easy. This deployment brought a lot of emotions, some arguments, a whole lot of stress, some "I can't do this" moments, loneliness, and tears. But it also brought the one thing that makes all that worthwhile--a strengthening of our family unit. The resiliency that grows and prevails during those long months of separation is something that I find it hard to describe. There is a sense of euphoria when we come back together--that first embrace, that first kiss, the smiles of pure joy on the boys' faces..they all represent the reason we do this. Love. Love can conquer all things and it does. That moment that we are made complete again does not erase the hardships of this lifestyle. However, it shines a light on them that makes them seem much less significant than they did at the time. It provides us with the willingness to do it all again because, in the end, we can look back and say "totally worth it".
*Special thanks to Kimberlin Gray Photography for being so patient during this deployment and for capturing our special day for us.*